Actors Who Perplexingly Played Themselves
Seeing a familiar face pop up in an unexpected film or television show is a fun little inclusion. If it plays against type – such as Mel Gibson playing a heavily pierced concert goer – it’s even better. But sometimes it gets a bit weird when they play themselves. This enters the fourth wall breaking realm of surrealism with some mindbending occurrences of actors playing a ‘version’ of themselves. These aren’t instances of actors simply playing themselves, but playing a version of them informed by other people’s perception of them. Makes sense?
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage is an actor whose reputation precedes him more than most. Although an incredibly talented performer, a string of lacklustre projects and bizarre behaviour off set (the infamous purchase of dinosaur bones is frequently commented on) has left him with the public persona of an over-the-top lunatic. This persona gets played to great effect in the recent The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which Nicholas Cage features as Nick Cage. Constantly passed over for top roles and menaced by a hallucination of his younger, more successful self, this performance reads as both reflective and making light of his career and reputation. All we know is that the world would be a lot less fun without Mr. Cage.
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME
More than decade prior to Cage playing the Cage, the Muscles From Brussels gave us a much more sombre take on the concept with JCVD. Playing himself at a point when his career was in a downturn (the action movie trend of the 80s and 90s being his bread and butter), van Damme returns to his hometown where he’ll be welcomed as a legend. Once he gets embroiled in a hostage situation during a bank robbery, he wants to step into the hero role. As things escalate, van Damme takes a moment out of the narrative to address the camera directly about his past mistakes. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt dramatic moment in an interesting action comedy.
Being John Malkovich
Unlike most of list, this role doesn’t rely on the performers public image make it interesting. Instead it’s the strange world built around the premise, with a hapless office worker finds a portal in his building that makes you a passenger in actor John Malkovich’s head, literally seeing the world through his eyes. As the story continues, various characters seek to manipulate Malkovich or capitalise on the unique experience with Malkovich eventually learning what’s happening and entering the portal himself. This leads to Malkovich delving into his own mind and encountering a world wherein everyone is played by John Malkovich. Fun fact: if John Malkovich had turned down the role we would have potentially seen Being Steve Buscemi.
Zombieland is an unexpected gem of a zombie apocalypse, coming in with a relatively modest budget and newcomer actors who would go on to critical acclaim and award winning careers. Although are heroes are isolated, facing a bleak and empty future and will never feel fulfilled, their struggle for survival brings a surreal level of mirth. Amid the death and aimlessness they take the time to do things they wouldn’t normally do…including breaking into Bill Murray’s house to check out his stuff. Strangely enough they find that Bill is still home, disguised as a zombie and all to happy to welcome them. Then they accidentally kill him. Not before Murray throws some shade on his roles in the Garfield movies.
Again with this guy. Clearly Michael Jordan wasn’t having a great experience making Space Jam. It’s challenging enough to make your feature film debut, it’s a nightmare when you spend the whole time on a green screen interacting with people covered head-to-toe in green leotards. It would appear that his way of dealing with this is to call Bill Murray in to riff with. Murray enters the basketball game towards the end of the movie, explaining to Daffy Duck that he’s a friend of the producer a ‘teamster dropped him off’. Sure, just break the reality of the film and admit that you just rolled up to add some jokes. Funniest thing in the movie.
There’s something a bit cheeky about this particular cameo, as it only subtly indicates that the lunatic our heroes have just encountered is, in fact, Anna Faris. After a pair of hapless suburban cousins get themselves drawn into a drug deal in order to save their kitten they find themselves travelling to the Hollywood Hills and at the home of a blonde celebrity played by Anna Faris. The character is clearly unhinged and a parody of out-of-control starlets of the era…but then Jordan Peele quietly mentions that he loved her in The House Bunny. Yes, this is Anna Faris playing herself, challenging them to shoot each other because she’s never seen ‘brains explode out of a skull’ and waving around a samurai sword.
I know, I know, there’s a more appropiate scene in Always Be My Maybe where he appears as Ali Wong’s date and plays a pretentious version of himself. Instead we’re going with Keanu again where Keanu appears in a dream sequence as himself but speaking through a kitten named Keanu. And yes, I’m using this on for the kitten. No apologies.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS
Harold and Kumar Series
One of the most discussed moments in stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle occurs when our title characters pick up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be sitcom child star Neil Patrick Harris. Now, at the time Harris wasn’t known for the womanizer Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, but for his young performance as gifted child doctor Doogie Howser, MD. Taking a cue from the stereotype of child actors going off the rails, this version of Harris steals the hero’s car for a cocaine and prostitute fuelled joyride. Funny stuff. Where this gets real meta is in the third entry in the series, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. This film brings in Harris’ real-life husband David Burtka as himself, making the claim that their real-life wholesome family and upstanding image is a public cover for movie-Harris and his horrid escapades.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
So he’s not an actor, shut up. This makes the count due to everyone being a good sport. Gremlins 2 is a shockingly underrated horror comedy that took the idea of a ‘bigger and better’ approach to sequels and mocked it endlessly. The gremlins take control of Not-Trump Tower along with its TV studio and it isn’t long before they’re making the headlines for themselves. Famed movie critic Leonard Maltin hated Gremlins, and appears as himself in the sequel criticising the original. Then the gremlins murder him. When Roland Emmerich made his terrible Godzilla movie he put parodies of Siskel and Ebert in it as some kind of ‘gotcha’, but even the critics pointed out that he didn’t even have Godzilla step on them. Gremlins 2 is how this should be done.
Ocean’s Eleven massively overperformed, combining cool actors wearing cool clothes and doing cool heists. It’s one of the definitive caper films. All they had to do for the sequel was the same thing again. New setting, new gadgets, new enemies…but more of the same. Reportedly the cast and crew got into the ‘culture’ while filming in Amsterdam and I believe it because you’d have to be stoned out of your mind to think this was a clever bit. The characters realise that Tess, played by Julia Roberts, resembles the famous actor Julia Roberts and they can pull a scam with Tess pretending to be the actor who played her. See what I mean about having to be stoned to think this was a good idea? The plan is unravelled when they happen to bump into Julia’s real life friend Bruce Willis who notices that Tess is writing with the wrong hand. Just…I mean…I don’t remember a single other thing about this movie. This perplexing cameo was so utterly confounding.